Frosted: A First-Generation Asian American's Journey in the US Navy

Frosted: A First-Generation Asian American's Journey in the US Navy

DISCLAIMER: What I am about to report is to me the truth. This is not me posting political analysis about the Navy or America. This is a story about me and my experiences so far in the Navy; good or bad, this is what I've experienced so far. The following piece is more of a memoir so I don't forget all the funny things that happened.

Why am I unique for the Navy?

My parents immigrated from Southern China in the late 1980's. Similar to most immigrants, they wanted a better life and saw better opportunities for me in America. As I aged, I excelled in academics and wanted to go to college or an university, nothing special or different from other Asians. However, unlike most East Asians, I decided to go through college through the military. Many East Asian Americans don't join the military. Whether it is the fear of harassment or racism, not many join. For the few who do, they will normally enlist.

Generally, there are two paths that people can go in the US military. One is enlisting and the other is commissioning as an officer. I will go further in a different take to detail in how one goes about commissioning but essentially an officer has a college degree.

I, however, was fortunate enough to earn a scholarship and commission as a Naval Officer. Why am I special? Asian military officers only make up 3% of the officer corps in the US military. Most Asian officers are second and third generation Americans not first; thus, the odds were not exactly stacked in my favor.

Frosted: A First-Generation Asian American's Journey in the US Navy

College Years: Just a Civilian

I attended a University in Oregon and earned a Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering. It was very challenging academically, lots of math and science courses. At the time, I thought it would help me prepare for career in the submarine force, but things would not turn out as planned. In fact, it was very weird.

My love for submarines occurred during summer break. As a Midshipman, I was required to go through training during the summer in order to determine which community or career I wanted to enter in the Navy. The submarine is small; the racks AKA beds felt like coffins. I had to roll in and out, and I couldn't really turn sideways. There was hardly any room to move and I had to learn how to conserve water. However, it sailed smoothly under the water. It was more comfortable than flying. Even though it's a small ship, the submarine is a game changer. There were three things that I learned from being on a submarine: one, everything above the water is a target. Two, it is very difficult to find a submarine. Three, a torpedo is a very powerful weapon. I learned this final lesson through a torpedo exercise. Essentially, the Navy towed a decommissioned ship to a location in the middle of nowhere.

There were planes dropping bombs and ships blasting surface guns against the ship throughout the day. However, the ship did not sink; it had holes, but she still floated. Then, it was the submarine's turn. She closed in on her target, she had a firing solution, and one of the crew released the torpedo. For fear of the torpedo counter targeting the submarine, the sub went to flank speed (really fast over 30 mph) in the water away from the target and torpedo. I would say we were about 2 miles away and then I felt the shock. It felt like an earthquake, but it was a successful hit. It wasn't until about a couple days later when the Captain received the video of the exercise before I realized the power of the torpedo. The video showed the ship; apparently, the torpedo created an air bubble and the ship collapsed into two pieces. It only took one torpedo, not a dozen, but one to sink a ship.

Frosted: A First-Generation Asian American's Journey in the US Navy

Community Selection Day

Within six months of my Commissioning date as a Naval Officer, I had to choose my career path. Since I was a part of the ROTC program, my first four choices had to be an Unrestricted Line path (war fighting communities vice support like Medical or Supply). My choices were Submarines, Surface Warfare Nuclear Option, Surface Warfare Engineering Duty, Naval flight Officer, and Supply. 99% of people who choose submarines get submarines. If not that, they would get Surface Warfare Nuclear Option. However, I did not. The Navy gave me my third option, and I stuck with it. My Commanding Officer called me into his office and revealed my career path.

He was very puzzled as he and everyone else knew I wanted to join the submarine force. My reaction was priceless; I started laughing and shook my head in disbelief. How did a nuclear engineer not join the force that utilizes nuclear power? To this day, no one knows how I did not get the submarine community as my career path. In fact, the submariner on the staff tried convincing to change my community, but I respectfully declined. I am glad I did. It's a very tough life and very tough training regiment, but submariners do earn a very big bonus. However, as I would eventually learn about the Navy, the money is not worth it.

Frosted: A First-Generation Asian American's Journey in the US Navy

Ship Selection Day

Selecting my first ship reminded me of the NFL Draft. Instead of the teams picking the players, it was the players that picked the teams. There was only one variable that was important to me in selecting my first ship: location. Unfortunately, due to my lack of research, I did not get a chance to figure out the the ships' command and cultural climate as those two variables determine how likely will I enjoy my time on board the ship.

The Commanding Officer makes a big difference. After talking to an Admiral for some mentorship, he convinced me I had to choose a destroyer. That left me with a few locations, but I knew I wanted to stay on the west coast. In my opinion, the farther away from the East Coast (Virginia) or the pentagon the better. I call that side the butt and the pentagon kind of reminds of an anus. My two options were San Diego or Hawaii based on my ranking amongst 200 something people. I ended up picking Hawaii because living in paradise is something most people can't do.

To be continued...

Frosted: A First-Generation Asian American's Journey in the US Navy
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